Until now, the only other time I made lemon curd was back in Mrs Clarke’s domestic science lesson, I was thirteen. But, only after we had learned to poach an egg, whisk up a egg mayonnaise from scratch, knock up a good firm but not too firm egg custard, and finally create the pièce de résistance: a béchamel sauce with added cheese poured over boiled eggs cut in half lengthways et voilà: Eggs Mornay. All that French influence and fancy cooking was an eye opener to my mum back in the 60s, when every Wednesday afternoon I brought home the finished project. Looking back I am very grateful to Mrs Clarke, who not only looked a bit like Delia, she cooked like her. Mrs Clarke was very meticulous: everything measured, everything timed, everything perfect. The world was ordered and safe and backed up with handwritten notes in blue ink.
Mrs Clarke’s methods gave me the confidence to throw the rule book out the window and learn to trust my own palate and improvisation in the kitchen (more Nigella than Delia). Anyway, back to the home-made lemon curd which once graced the tea table of all the families I knew when I was growing up, then it seemed to go almost extinct and we all turned our noses up at it. Well I’m sure that’s not entirely true but it wasn’t very cool to eat it or make it and the last time I bought a jar it tasted like it would strip the enamel off my teeth in one go. I don’t think my grown up children have ever eaten it.
And then the world turned upside down and it became cool to be making jam and lemon curd and blackberry vinegar and wonderful stuff for my kitchen store cupboard and gifts for friends. These things have become luxuries and lovely indulgencies because the raw materials can be hard to find, time being one of them, and the fact that they only come in one season. (That said, I discovered it is possible to buy sloes on ebay and I can always buy fresh over blown blackberries all the year round in supermarkets, at a price but I don’t.)
The thing about lemons is that they are always in season, well we’ve been led to believe that is so thanks to the many ways fresh fruit and vegetables are made available to us all year round.
But then there are certain lemons, and certain oranges like the ones from Seville that really are only available in one short season, so that to me makes them rather special and highly desirable because they are prized for their particular and consistent flavour and then once they’re gone, they’re gone until, you hope, the next season. So I was very excited when I got hold of a supply of Bergamot lemons more often called Bergamot orange (so it goes a cross breed of bitter orange and lemon). Marmalade is at the top of the list and then out of nowhere I started thinking about making lemon curd.
The Bergamot lemon/orange gives Earl Grey it’s distinctive citrus flavour. The taste is not quite as sour as a lemon and is recommended for several orange deserts as I found during my searches on the Internet. I used Nigel Slater’s recipe for lemon curd as my starting point as this one has less sugar than a few others I checked, he also adds more yolk than egg white which made sense to me. The same web page suggests other things you can do with this wonderful, under-appreciated, lemony butter.
Bergamot Lemon Curd
Zest & juice of 5 Bergamot lemons 100 g butter 3 eggs plus an extra yolk 200 g castor sugar
Melt butter, sugar with zest and juice in a bowl over a pan of simmering hot water. Whisk lightly until sugar melted. Beat together the eggs and add to the mix, keep frisking until the consistency is thick enough to coat the back of a metal spoon, lick to test sharpness, add another lemon if it’s not to your liking. I added the fifth lemon at this point. I was happy with the consistency after about 15 minutes. Let it cool a bit, then pour it into a measuring jug ready for pouring into two small jars. I had exactly half a litre which filled two jars plus a little left over for sampling.
I placed the sample in the freezer for about half an hour to thicken up quickly. It was divine stirred into a bowl of plain yogurt. Top banana in fact. Seems like only a little output for a lot of ingredients but I prefer it that way, all the better to savour and keep fresh. Short, sharp and sweet just the way I like it.